Russell Westbrook Could Be Key to Keeping Golden State Warriors Dynasty AliveNovember 12, 2020
Russell Westbrook no longer wants to be a Houston Rocket. The former MVP's future is a mystery just weeks before players are expected to report to training camp.
Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium broke the news, citing Westbrook's unhappiness with his role and the team's accountability and culture.
If the Rockets grant Westbrook's wish, finding a trade partner won't be easy.
The nine-time All-Star is still one of the NBA's most talented players, but at age 32, he has become wildly overpaid. According to Spotrac, Westbrook will earn $41.4 million this year, $44.2 million in 2021-22 and holds a player option for $47 million in 2022-23, when he'll turn 35 years old.
With Harden reportedly still committed to the Rockets, Houston will want complementary talent back to surround their remaining star with. Teams looking to take on Westbrook will point to his contract and age as reasons why they shouldn't have to send much back in return, however.
While The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor cited the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers as two teams that have interest in Westbrook, it's Houston's biggest rival that should be pursuing the two-time scoring champ the most.
If the Golden State Warriors want to keep their dynasty alive, they should try to trade for Westbrook.
The Warriors will be getting a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green back on the court together this season, looking to make a sixth Finals appearance in seven years.
The Western Conference they once dominated is far more talented now than the one the Warriors went 12-0 in the 2017 playoffs against, however.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis have the Los Angeles Lakers as the team to beat. The Clippers are still one of the deepest and most talented teams, led by Kawhi Leonard. Jamal Murray looked like a superstar while lifting the Denver Nuggets to the West Finals, and Luka Doncic's Dallas Mavericks will be a force for years to come.
The Warriors aren't the same group, either.
While they won the 2014-15 title without Kevin Durant, this Durant-less squad isn't nearly as deep. There's no Andre Iguodala to come off the bench and win Finals MVP again. No Harrison Barnes to space the floor and defend multiple positions. Not even a Shaun Livingston to reliably run the second-team offense.
With a core now all in their 30s, the Warriors are just another good team in a loaded Western Conference with little depth. It is also trying to fit Andrew Wiggins in to a culture that stresses ball movement and defense, which are not exactly his strengths.
So how would Westbrook work in Golden State?
His fit feels wonky at first: a point guard who needs the ball in his hands joining a team that already has two All-Stars in its backcourt. And what about that contract?
Wiggins' deal would have to be the baseline for any transaction: a three-year, $94.6 million remaining contract that comes in at $29.5 million next season. Add in Kevon Looney ($4.8 million) and the money is close enough to bring Westbrook in.
From Houston's angle, this move doesn't make much sense, however. Wiggins is a poor outside shooter who wouldn't fit in well next to Harden. While Wiggins is talented, the Rockets would likely want to bring in a third team to get another player in (albeit probably also on a bad contract) who can complement Harden.
Sending Wiggins and Looney to the Detroit Pistons for Blake Griffin or Cleveland Cavaliers for Kevin Love makes far more sense, giving Harden a floor-spacing, talented-passing big man to play off of while the rebuilding team gets a 25-year-old Wiggins who averaged 21.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists this year. Picks or young players could always be swapped to satisfy all parties in the end.
For the Warriors, only having to give up Wiggins and Looney for a talent like Westbrook would be worth it.
Assuming Golden State takes a center with the second pick in the draft, a new Warriors starting lineup of Westbrook, Curry, Thompson, Green and James Wiseman/Onyeka Okongwu is back to being one of the most talented in the NBA.
At 6'3" and 200 pounds, Westbrook should have no problem defending opposing shooting guards while Curry gets to stay on 1s. Thompson has always been able to guard small forwards with his 6'6", 215-pound frame, and Green remains one of the league's most switchable defenders. Add in a rim protector, and this unit should have no issues defensively.
The fit between Curry and Westbrook likely wouldn't take all that long to sort out.
Curry already took a step back offensively and proved he could play alongside a ball-dominant star when Durant joined the team in 2016. In his three seasons with the Warriors, Durant averaged 17.5 shot attempts per game with an assist rate of 25.1 percent. For his career playing next to guys like Durant, Harden and Paul George, Westbrook has averaged 18.8 shot attempts per game, but with a 42.3 percent assist rate.
Putting two elite passers like Westbrook and Green on the court at the same time would only help to provide Curry and Thompson with more open looks. In their last healthy season, Thompson knocked down 40.5 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes, while Curry clocked in at 44.6 percent. As good of an on-ball player as Curry is, he's perhaps even more lethal coming off screens.
No player averaged more transition possessions per game than Westbrook's 7.3 last season. Just imagine him pushing the pace and getting downhill while Curry and Thompson space out to the corners, leaving the defenders in an impossible decision to try to stop the locomotive driving down the lane or sprint out and get a hand in the NBA's greatest shooting backcourt of all time.
The Warriors' half court offense would now include a new dynamic as well.
Westbrook led the NBA with 20.8 drives per game last season, making the pass 43.4 percent of the time. Never before has he had the kind of outside shooting talent around him to catch those passes, giving the Warriors a dimension not previously seen.
Golden State could also stagger the minutes between Westbrook and Curry, letting the former unleash hell on opposing teams' second units for stretches.
If finding a better culture is what Westbrook wants, where better than Golden State? They have stars who have shown the ability to not only win championships, but do so while welcoming in another ball-needy All-NBA talent.
The Warriors won't have cap space for years anyway, making Westbrook's deal more manageable. With a championship-or-bust mentality, Golden State needs more talent to get back to a title level.
Westbrook has his faults but is still one of the NBA's best players and is perhaps the Warriors' best chance to add a star, especially without having to give up the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft.
If Westbrook truly wants out of Houston, the Warriors should be in pursuit.